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That way of working is highly collaborative. For all her individual honors, Duflo has coauthored papers with nearly 30 colleagues, and she’s written more than 20 pieces with Banerjee. “We work in very different ways,” says Banerjee. “Esther is extraordinarily fast in implementing the conceptual framework we come up with. I work more slowly, polishing that [material] into something we both like.”

The experimental method also requires extensive research. “Esther spends a lot of time speaking with people in the villages, not sitting in the capital city talking to donors,” says Kremer, who has worked with Duflo and others for years to refine the Kenyan fertilizer experiments. And experiments are vital, Duflo emphasizes, because not all ideas pan out: “If a theory is wrong, you are going to find it.”

In turn, some discoveries improve the world, which is what matters most to Duflo. Consider the Udaipur lentil giveaway, which J-PAL now aims to test on a larger scale in India. “This is my favorite project,” she allows. “I think it could become the best we’ve ever done, in terms of saving lives.”

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Credit: Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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